Can Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan overcome anti-incumbency and party infighting? Video Credit: Gulf News

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a Congress problem. Ahead of elections in Madhya Pradesh later this year and polls which are due in Haryana next year, there are rumblings within the party in both states.

The defeat in Karnataka has sent alarm bells ringing in the Madhya Pradesh BJP where several leaders are now imploring the leadership to get their act together and reach out to people.

Reports say that internal surveys conducted by the BJP show that the party is in big trouble in the Hindi heartland state. There have been rumours for some time now that the central leadership may even choose to replace the Chief Minister as a last ditch attempt at salvaging the situation.

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A formidable opponent

The problems in the state BJP are largely between Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who has been in power for four terms, and the Madhya Pradesh BJP chief, VD Sharma. Sharma is relatively new to the set up while Chauhan is seeking a 5th term as Chief Minister.

Having been in power so long, Chouhan faces a difficult task with anti incumbency, corruption allegations against his government and many ruffled feathers within the party. Just weeks ago, Deepak Joshi, a former BJP minister and son of former chief minister late Kailash Joshi, joined the Congress.

The last MP election in 2018 was actually won by the Congress. But the BJP took charge less than two years later when Jyotiraditya Scindia broke away with a groups of legislators and defected from the Congress to the BJP. This in itself has led to resentment in sections of the party who feel that the defectors lead by Scindia have got plum positions while the rest of them have been left behind.

What worries BJP cadre is that the Congress is turning out to be a formidable opponent in MP after the Karnataka win. The Congress is planning to repeat the Karnataka formula of focusing on local issues and the governance of Shivraj Chouhan and his failed promises. This is why BJP leaders in the state have urged for clarity on schemes and the need to push for more major announcements especially targeted at women.

There are many populist schemes that Chouhan’s government has already embarked upon -- from ₹100 crore for a temple for Sant Ravidas to reach out to Dalit voters to temple corridors in other parts of the state.

Though polarisation does not quite resonate in MP in the way that it does in other states with over 90 per cent of the population Hindu, the Congress lead by Kamal Nath hasn’t shied away from playing the Hindu card either.

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Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar with BJP President JP Nadda

A key factor in the outcomes

Meanwhile polls are due in Haryana next year and Chief Minister ML Khattar, who has already been on the backfoot, now faces the fallout of the wrestlers’ protests. The faces of the protest, Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, are from Haryana and most of those protesting are from the powerful Jat community.

Many in the party believe the heavy hand by the Centre against them will lead to political trouble not just in Haryana but Rajasthan and western UP as well. Farmers unions have also supported the wrestlers.

The BJP deals with dissent in its ranks with a tough hand but as Himachal and Karnataka have shown, that does not always work. How it plays its cards in the upcoming polls will be critical ahead of the all-important general election next year.

One caveat -- the Congress too faces factionalism in MP, Haryana and Rajasthan. Given that both main parties are confronted with similar problems, it could be a key factor in the outcomes.